Four years ago, I was a single vegetarian pursuing a communications career. Now, I am a married omnivore beginning farmer. Eggs were my gateway food. I began buying them from the farmers market when I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to be closer to my husband-to-be. My favorite dozens came from a two-woman operation called Crane Dance Farm. As I found out more about their operation (see my post from 2008 about the farm here) and learned about grass-fed meat and rotational grazing, I began to get more comfortable with the idea of eating meat again. That was four years ago, and it was around that time that we started looking for new ways to earn our living. We began volunteering at the farm occasionally, then once every week, and then found ourselves staying overnight to complete projects. Our friendship with them began to deepen. Over the course of months, we had applied to an internship program in Vermont and were accepted; we left Michigan for a year in 2009 to go and learn about food production and cooking (me) and sustainable building and design (my husband).
Michigan called us back from Vermont. It is the place where both of us were born, where both of our parents still live and a place that we hope to put some of the skills we’ve learned to use. And let’s be honest: Michigan needs all the help it can get. Our internships were two thirds over when we received an email from the farm, asking us if we’d made any plans to return to our homeland. They were wondering if we’d be interested in coming back to take up residence at the farm and work with them full time. Details were fuzzy at best, but our hearts soared. “This is a chance of a lifetime opportunity,” I kept repeating. And it is.
Long before going to Vermont, we had started thinking about the possibility of farming and the idea really took root while we were there. At the time, we were wondering how we would ever get access to land, much less access to some of the knowledge we knew we’d need. Books can only take you so far. At some point, you need to learn from someone with experience. It seemed like the perfect pairing: a young couple full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas, who want to learn and who like to work hard. An older couple full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas who need help and who like to work hard. We said yes.
We came home in December and have been in the gradual process of moving to the farm since. My muck boots never leave, but we are not here full time quite yet. In a few days, we will be. It has just been three months but it has already been turbulent, messy, fun, and jam-packed. The realization has dawned on me that being a farmer doesn’t mean you know just about animals or vegetables or whatever you’re growing — you need to know at least a little about building, repairing, making do, machinery, mechanics, refrigeration, regulations, sales and marketing … it’s overwhelming. And none of this starts taking into account our desire to learn how to farm in an ecologically enhancing way.
In mid-February, I pulled a muscle in the middle of my back while pitchforking some bedding out of the barn. It is still in the process of healing and is a great nuisance and very frustrating when I want to be a part of some work that I know I shouldn’t do at the moment. And I worry, what if I can’t physically keep up with the demands of this work? Why am I doing this again?
Early in March, we were taken to meet a fellow grass farmer who sells some calves to our farm and the occasional round hay bale. He was about 70 years old, spry and talkative. He took us around his farm and I was noticing that everything I saw was something he’d put together; he even had welded his own implements for his tractor. The man was farmer ingenuity personified. He took us up into his barn and explained how he had built new trusses and lifted them up and set them in place by himself using mechanical advantage. All of these things rolled off his tongue as if it was no big deal. He spoke about breeding decisions and major renovation projects in as off-hand fashion as a commuter would order a no-whip-nonfat-sugarfree-caramel-double-latte to go. Then he mentioned that the barn was built by his great-great-grandfather for his great-great-great-grandfather. There are no children or young people in the picture. All of the accumulated knowledge of generations held within him, and probably the farmland, will be lost when he dies. I stood there listening to this man, with the ache of my pulled muscle throbbing in my back, and felt reaffirmed in the path my husband and I are treading. I don’t want these stories to fade into lore. They are a living piece of culture with practical use, and have been built up over time to be applied and improved upon, not just listened to. I want to be a part of their continuation.